Active-Duty Troops May Help with Nationwide COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

Member of the Oregon Army National Guard administers the COVID-19 vaccine.
Oregon Army National Guard Private First Class Aina administers the COVID-19 vaccine to a walk-in patient at the Oregon Convention Center, Portland, Ore., Jan. 27, 2021. (U.S. National Guard/John Hughel, Oregon)

The Pentagon will provide personnel to help with distribution of COVID-19 vaccines across the country at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Thursday.

The Defense Department received a request late Wednesday from FEMA to assist with President Joe Biden's effort to bolster vaccinations across the country. Pentagon officials said midday Thursday they were "evaluating the request and what kinds of support [DoD] can provide."

But Kirby said Thursday afternoon that the DoD is "obviously going to source" the request, and the military services are determining what type of support and how many people may be needed to help.

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"Just like we would get through a combatant command request, it's going through the same processes. It's being analyzed for resourcing and risk by the services," he said.

Kirby added that the response could involve a combination of personnel, including medical workers; it may draw from the active duty, reserve, National Guard -- or all three components.

"This will very much be a joint effort. It's not going to fall to one service," he said.

Biden said Monday he wants to see 1.5 million Americans vaccinated each day, an ambitious 50% increase from his original goal to inoculate 1 million per day during his first 100 days in office.

To date across the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has distributed 48,386,275 COVID-19 vaccine doses; of those, 26,193,682, or 54%, have been injected into patients.

The Biden administration has been negotiating with vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna to purchase 200 million additional doses.

"Help is on the way," Biden said, adding that the purchase would enable 300 million Americans to have access to a vaccine by the beginning of fall.

Government health officials floated the idea last August that U.S. military medical personnel or National Guard troops could assist with vaccinations once doses became available, as reported first by

But in October, the DoD said that military personnel would not be administering shots and that the government effort, known as Operation Warp Speed, had decided to leave distribution planning to the states and federal entities that received allocations.

Roughly 20,000 National Guard members are currently activated to support COVID-19 response, including testing and vaccine efforts, and 1,000 military medical personnel are on "prepare-to-deploy" orders, according to Max Rose, the senior COVID adviser to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

In addition, 224 U.S. military medical personnel are supporting an intensive care unit in California; 80 are supporting three hospitals in Texas; and another 87 are deployed to three hospitals in Arizona.

Forty Army Corps of Engineers personnel are supporting hospital infrastructure improvements in California and New Mexico, Rose added.

In the past several weeks, COVID-19 distribution has faltered in many states. North Dakota, West Virginia and New Mexico, for example, have distributed more than 71% of their current supplies, while Alabama, Wisconsin and Kansas have dispensed less than 43% of theirs, according to data maintained by Becker's Hospital Review.

In his first day in office, Austin said the pandemic was his top priority and pledged military resources to fight the disease.

"You have already come to the aid of our nation's health care professionals. You can expect that mission to continue," he said.

With just 4% of the world's population, the United States leads the globe in cases -- nearly 25.7 million as of Jan. 28, or 25% of all cases worldwide -- and deaths, 431,289, or nearly 20% of all deaths, according to data published by Johns Hopkins University.

Austin told service members that the department must do its part to help defeat the coronavirus. As of Wednesday, the DoD had recorded 214,424 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, including 137,709 military personnel.

More than 230 people affiliated with the DoD, including military members, civilian employees, dependents and contractors, have died.

"We will also do everything we can to vaccinate and care for our workforce and to look for meaningful ways to alleviate the pressure this pandemic has exerted on you and your families," Austin said.

According to the CDC, the DoD has received 794,200 vaccine doses to date and distributed 389,927, or less than 50%. These included 335,627 first doses and 46,561 second doses.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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